Busted By The Wikipedia Police

In a recent post on Search Engine Land’s Link Week I got a less-than-enthusiastic comment/rebuttal from a Wiki supporter after I suggested looking to the Wikipedia as a link resource.

Here’s the comment I got:

Deb, please have a look at Wikipedia’s conflict of interest guideline. I believe that webmasters should be able to do whatever they want with their own sites, but when they visit somebody else’s Web 2.0 site, they need to follow house rules. Breaking the rules when you are a guest in somebody else’s house is rude.

Link building is great, but you need to keep reputation management in mind. Wikipedia’s rules strongly discourage self-serving edits. If you get caught, you and your client could suffer public embarrassment. We all know how well Wikipedia pages rank. Before taking this risk, I recommend reading this essay.

That comment was made in response to what I said here:

I also recommend you take the time to submit to the Open Directory Project, pay for a Yahoo! Directory listing (especially if the site is new) and look for submission opportunities at Wikipedia. Yes I know the Wikipedia uses nofollow on their links rendering them virtually useless from a link popularity standpoint, but—the traffic you’d get from those links is worth it. If you can find an opportunity to add your site where it will make a useful contribution, do it.


Bold is mine. At first I was surprised given the Wikipedia disclaimer in my post – “add your site where it will make a useful contribution” but, after thinking about it, looking through Wikipedia and the link the poster provided, I decided to step back and try to see things from his perspective instead of being automatically defensive. To do that I knew I had to spend a good bit of time reading through Wikipedia with more of an editors mind than a link builder.Which shouldn’t have been hard for me since I spent many years as a DMOZ editor. But the two entities are very different so I found that didn’t help much in the end.

To get started, I clicked the conflict of interest link the poster provided and read through the page, then subsequent pages and even more pages after that. After all the reading and link skipping I came away with two conclusions: There isn’t a page in the guidelines and the site itself that doesn’t warn (in some fashion) about spamming. Every page mentions it so unless you’re a total idiot, that should be clear .

Second, after it was all read and done, I still don’t agree with the logic behind the posters comments -or- understand how my comments could be construed as a conflict of interest. Even the conflict of interest guidelinepage I was pointed to had an exception “ Merely participating in or having professional expertise in a subject is not, by itself, a conflict of interest”

So I ask sincerely- where’s the correlation between “useful contribution” and conflict of interest? And where is this “don’t submit your/client’s information clause”? Would a public library turn down a book I authored simply because I wrote it?

I say “sincerely” because based on what I read, the guidelines provide a lot of positive encouragement and suggest editors approach the submission process with an assumption of good faith. The idea of submitting with a neutralpoint of view comes up over and over as does the issue of respect and consensus. All positive and constructive guidelines, and all related to my suggestion of making a “useful contribution”.

So why is it not right to add a site you own/are passionate about or add to a discussion and cite a resource you are associated with? Not everyone is trying to game Wikipedia. I can’t speak for others or what’s happened in the past but I do feel suggesting that someone is being rude or could suffer public embarrassment by contributing usefully totally goes against what they talk about here in common sense: “Being too wrapped up in rules can cause you to lose perspective”.

I totally get the idea they need rules and guidelines, any publically edited encyclopedia would but – to tell the public they can’t contribute affiliated material because it’s a conflict of interest just seems – well – undemocratic to me. The public reading the info doesn’t know who submitted it, nor do they care. They just want good information. Can the Wikipedia honestly say they have all the quality information on subjects listed? Probably not. If you publically put a dampner on the idea you can’t submit good information because you’re the author or tied to the materials , there’s a chance you’ll never get quality information. Now who suffers?
One last thing.
I stand by what I recommended in my post today, getting links from credible sources such as the DMOZ, Yahoo! Directory and Wikipedia work to build your foundational link and business reputation. With the Wikipedia’s all around visibility that just makes business and community sense. If you have good content that the world would benefit by knowing about, find the right category and participate by offering your information.
Don’t spam and
Read the guidelines before you submit anywhere.
Hopefully I’ve covered all the disclaimers needed this time!